Step 1: Reforming my own discursive behavior

So, there’s a lot of stuff here and I am not going to get to it all tonight, I fear. There are issues around civility, ethics, anonymity, content, and harm (at the very least, and there are probably more). I also don’t feel that I am obliged to weigh in on anything that others have said better, so I may not hit all the issues.

But one thing is entirely clear to me.

50 percent of the problem I created had to do with the fact that I cut off discussion on this post, which caused it to go elsewhere and take on unnecessary dimensions. I bear the responsibility for starting the topic, so I bear the responsibility for listening to the whole discussion, that’s clear. I’m not sure the discussion would have been any more pleasant if I hadn’t cut it off, but at least it wouldn’t have gone elsewhere and angered other bloggers. This collateral damage is thus my fault and mine alone. I apologize abjectly to all my sister bloggers for that, and also to readers who were upset by what’s been happening.

I want to reform my discursive behavior by taking steps to avoid a situation in future where I cut off discussion. Yes, I knew the topic would be controversial. But I have great commentators on the whole, and I was counting on the sort of civil, thoughtful, and careful discussions that we have had here for more than two years, the kind of discussion that involved consideration for each other. And I realized as the comments wore on that I was not going to get that discussion. I don’t want to go into specifics about why, because I don’t want to preach about other people’s remarks or behaviors. Instead, I want to get to the root of my own and change it.

100 percent of the reason that I cut off discussion on that post had to do with a single commentator, a person with whom I have a long, rocky history. The commentator is extremely intelligent, and I have enjoyed some long conversations with her, but at the same time, the tone of her contributions insofar as I perceive it is such that it often leaves me wincing and angry after I read her comments. This perception is, naturally, all about me and my issues and not about her. Tone is hard to indicate on the Internet, and so it hasn’t been present on my list of reasons to block a commentator. The only reason I have ever blocked anyone, and I have only blocked one person from commenting in over two years, was a literal ad hominem attack on me.

My problems with this commentator mystify me — I really don’t understand why they’re occurring, and believe me, I’ve spent time wondering — but I haven’t blocked her because I don’t block people simply for disagreeing. I like people to disagree with me, especially when their comments are full of information about why they do so. Indeed, I can think of at least four other commentators with whom I have strong or even severe disagreements who comment here and there’s no problem. And I don’t argue with everyone with equal force, but as I said here, I argue vociferously with people who I think can take it. My willingness to engage with readers should be taken as a sign of respect from me to you. If I say something to you that’s complicated or controversial, it’s because I assume you can respond in kind.

So it’s not disagreement per se that’s the problem, it’s this commentator in particular. Nothing I can say in response to her (except, I suppose, fully agreeing with her, which I’ve admittedly never tried) seems to affect her. And it’s clear that although the bloggers in the Armitage blogosphere hardly agree on everything (and certainly, I exposed a big disagreement this week), we have been capable for well over two years of getting along with each other really well, with at most minor disagreements. And yet, at least twice in the last six months, this particular person has made comments here or elsewhere that sparked dissension among us because I responded to her negatively.

I can’t draw any conclusions about that process or the reasons it’s happening. 50 percent of any two-sided communication problem lies with each party, and I am not successfully using my 50 percent of our interaction to maintain harmony. I don’t know why I am failing. All I can conclude is that I, Servetus, should not be talking to this commentator for any reason. I’m not going to write a litany of specific ills from my perspective because I really don’t want to discuss them, and I don’t think hashing out the individual issues would have any effect at all in improving the atmosphere. I’ve tried to do what I can with words, but it’s now obvious that words have failed. Indeed, all I can do is resolve to change the pieces of my own behavior that I regret and am capable of changing.

As a result, with my regret and acknowledgement of failure, but also my realization that I can do nothing else, no matter the consequences, this commentator is now blocked from leaving comments here. Moreover, should I encounter this commentator elsewhere in the blogosphere I pledge to remain silent, to prevent any further dispute that might arise between us from causing dissension among or demanding partisanship from people who I consider my friends. The commentator, of course, remains free to say whatever she likes anywhere else but here.

I’m sorry to make such a big deal out of this; normally I’d try to do it discreetly, in comments, but this has turned into such a big problem that I needed to address it here. This is a decision that fundamentally questions my own conduct of discussions on this blog; it demanded severe reflection on my part and thus a statement of principle. I recognize that taking this step may frighten people; it’s not in my pattern, and doing this is not something I endorse either on free speech grounds, or as a means of sparking conversation. I spend a lot of time facilitating classroom discussion and I know the way to do it successfully does not involve forbidding people who I find difficult from speaking. In order for a class to work, typically it’s precisely those people for whom space has to be kept open, sometimes forcibly. What’s been going on here puzzles me precisely because I do know how to spark, continue, and moderate discussions from which people learn, and instead I find myself angered at every turn.

In the end, whatever my incapacity is, however, I need to preserve this space for discussions that are productive, and that is the sole reason that I am taking it. A productive discussion is emphatically not one where everyone agrees with me. It is, however, a discussion in which the participants have the feeling that they are communicating with each other successfully — a mood that has been lost in the last week or so in much of the Armitage blogosphere, and has caused at least one person to mourn a loss of unity and harmony that prevailed despite our diversity.

I, too, mourn. Comments are completely closed on this post, because I don’t want to read any yelling of jubilation or screaming of protest. I consider this a sad step. I wish I knew how to deal with this matter differently in a way that would allow me to preserve my integrity as a writer. But I don’t.

~ by Servetus on April 11, 2012.

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